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Seen and Known

Seen and Known

District Deaf/Hard of Hearing program gives students a place to thrive

It’s almost showtime for kindergartener Nathan Fries, and he’s beaming from ear to ear. He and his Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing classmates at Mountain View Elementary are about to present their final project, How to Be “Deaf Friendly,” to a classroom of adults including family,
teachers and the school principal.

Nathan is one of about 60 students at Mountain View Elementary who are a part of the Adams 12 Five Star Schools center-based Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) program. The program serves students from preschool through 12th grade and tracks from Mountain View to Westlake Middle School and Legacy High School which are all located in Broomfield.

“Representation matters,” DHH teacher Jenna Harris said. “It’s important for kids to see others who are like them. At Mountain View, our kiddos have role models and can also be role models for younger students. It’s powerful.”

This center-based program is one-of-a-kind in Colorado. In addition to serving families who live in the Five Star District, the program draws students from surrounding districts without adequate support for DHH students, such as DHH programs, qualified interpreters, or DHH teachers.

“I know there are a lot of families in Colorado that really want the supports for their DHH child like what Mountain View has,” Nathan’s mom Jami Fries said. The Fries family lives in Mead, which is located in another school district.

“When we had Nathan, he actually was born hearing and he lost his hearing, all of it, at six months old,” she said. “He is profoundly deaf in both ears.”

Nathan has cochlear implants, electronic devices that help provide a sense of sound.

“He does really like wearing them,” his mom said. “He likes access to sound. He chooses to speak, but he really needs that extra sign language piece to understand new concepts, which of course is what school is.”

The teaching philosophy of the DHH program in Adams 12 Five Star Schools is Total Communication. That means educating children with hearing loss that incorporates all means of communication; formal signs, natural gestures, fingerspelling, body language, listening, lipreading, speech and pictures. This philosophy is what drew Harris, a 20-year veteran DHH teacher, to join the program after graduate school.

“We follow the child’s preferred method of communication and expand on it using a variety of communication techniques,” she said. “I believe this philosophy empowers students by providing them with multiple means of communicating their thoughts, ideas and feelings.”

And that’s just the kind of environment Nathan needs and thrives in.

“We have just been so happy with Adams 12,” his mom said. “Just having access to everything within the school, visually, all of the sign language access around the school, the TVs, teachers of the Deaf, the speech therapists, and the aides; it’s just been such an inclusive environment. He has just been thriving.”

Nathan’s favorite part of school is when they get to go to “centers.” Centers allow students to explore areas of interest to them and engage in hands-on learning activities. So what’s Nathan’s favorite center?

“Hmmm,” he said. “Trains!!! I went on The Polar Express before.” He went on to share that he’s good at building train tracks and writing about trains.

Outside their learning in the general education classroom, Harris teaches the kindergarteners self-advocacy skills so they can learn how to advocate for themselves and their needs.

In the presentation about How to Be “Deaf Friendly,” the students showcase all they’ve learned about self-advocacy, empathy, self-love and inclusive practices. They also demonstrate the academic growth they’ve made, like Nathan learning to read
entire paragraphs.

“Thank you for coming to our presentation,” Nathan said to a classroom full of adults. “We hope you learned something and will use our tips for being ‘Deaf Friendly.’”

“For me, I just love seeing the growth and he’s doing amazing,” his mom said. “That really has to do with the patience and thinking outside the box, and his teachers do such an amazing job with that.

“Quite honestly the most happy part is watching Nathan come home being so happy, and he’s got so many friends in the classroom and the stories he comes home with. That for me is what makes it home for us, is watching him thrive and be happy when he goes to school.”

  • DHH